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Professor Iain Gilmour

Profile summary

  • Professor of Isotope Geochemistry and Associate Dean, Commercial and External Relations
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

Professional biography

Iain Gilmour obtained his BSc in Geology at the University of Saint Andrews in 1981 and his PhD in Geochemistry at Darwin College, Cambridge in 1985. After a research associate position at the Enrico Fermi Institute of the University of Chicago, he held a Royal Society University research fellowship at The Open University where he was appointed to a lectureship in 1996 and is currently Professor of Isotope Geochemistry. He was Associate Dean for Research for the Faculty of Science between 2004 and 2009, Head of Department of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute between 2009 and 2011, and is presently Associate Dean for Commercial and External Relations in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, a member of the American Geophysical Union, a member of the European Association of Geochemistry and a member of The Meteoritical Society.

Research interests

Iain's research contributions have been to three fields related to the study of meteorites and meteorite impacts for which he has developed and applied innovative stable isotope geochemical approaches to tackling fundamental research questions.

Geochemistry of past climate change
One of the most important areas of research involvolving meteorite impact craters over the past decade involves the unique paleoclimate records well-preserved impact craters can provide as they fill with sediments. Working with colleagues at the University of Aberdeen Iain's NERC-funded work on the Boltysh impact crater in the Ukraine has focussed on two areas. The first established the  age of the crater relative to the larger Chicxulub impact responsible for the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, advancing our understanding of potential celestial connections between the two. The second was the discovery of a unique record of a period of rapid global warming on a timescale commensurate with present human-induced climate change. The team's work has established the global nature of the event, the magnitude of the carbon cycle disruption and a high-resolution astronomically-paced chronology for the warming event. 

Cosmochemistry
Iain's cosmochemistry research has concerned the origin of carbon compounds in extraterrestrial materials, funded through successive rolling grants from the STFC. This research addresses fundamental questions on the origin of organic compounds and the early evolution of the Solar System. His research has meticulously developed and refined analytical approaches to the study of extraterrestrial carbonaceous materials. This has resulted in a number of significant advances beginning with a 1994 paper in which Iain proposed that a kinetic isotope effect during the condensation of larger ring clusters from lower homologs was responsible for the molecular level isotopic compositions measured for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the Murchison meteorite. This was followed by a series of increasingly sophisticated studies aimed at elucidating the origin of the complex macromolecular organic material found in meteorites that proposed that the carbon skeletons of these species were formed in the icy mantles of interstellar grains. 

Geochemistry of carbon in impact events 
Since the 1980s, the role of extraterrestrial impacts as a geological process has challenged paradigms of the Earth Sciences, particularly their role in the mass extinction 66 million years ago that saw the demise of the dinosaurs. During the 1990s and early 2000s an essential step was to ensure rigorous signatures of extraterrestrial impact could be unambiguously identified. Iain's research centred on identifying shock-produced diamond as a key signature of asteroid impact.

Teaching interests

Iain has taught on a wide range of Open University science modules in the geosciences and planetary sciences and has delivered courses at other insitutions including the University of Vienna, International Space Univeristy, Strassbourg, and the Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco, Itlay.

Principal teaching responsibilities:

  • External Examiner, Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen, 2013-2015
  • Chair, module team and examinations and assessment board, 3rd level module The Geological record of environmental change. 2014-
  • Chair, module team and examinations and assessment board, 1st level module Exploring Science. 2010-2013
  • Chair, module team and examinations and assessment board, 2nd level module Planetary Science and the search for life. 2001-2003
  • Chair, module team and examinations and assessment board, 1st level module Understanding Mars. 2003-2006

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington DC, Panel member, Cosmochemistry Review panel 2005, 2006, 2011; International Continental Drilling Programme, Science Team, Lake El’gygytyn project 2008-2011, Lake Bosumtwi project 2003-2006; European Science Foundation (ESF), Steering Committee member Scientific Programme on Terrestrial impact cratering 1998-2004,  Network on Mantle Carbon (Eurocarb) 2000-2003; Visiting Professor, University of Vienna, 1998; European Space Agency, Co-Investigator, Ptolemny Instrument, Rosetta Philae Lander, 1995-

Research Activity

Externally funded projects

EUROPLANET 2020 RI

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Jun/201531/May/2019EC (European Commission): FP(inc.Horizon2020, H2020, ERC)
The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (EPN2020-RI) will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across the European Research Area. Its Transnational Access activities will provide access to realistic analogue field sites for Mars, Europa and Titan, and world-leading laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found on planetary bodies. Its two Virtual Access activities will make available the diverse datasets and visualisation tools needed for comparing and understanding planetary environments in the Solar System and beyond. By providing the underpinning facilities that European planetary scientists need to conduct their research, EPN2020-RI will create cooperation and effective synergies between its different components: space exploration, ground-based observations, laboratory and field experiments, numerical modelling, and technology. EPN2020-RI builds on the foundations of the previous FP6 and FP7 Europlanet programmes that established the ‘Europlanet brand’ and organised structures that will be used in the Networking Activities of EPN2020-RI to coordinate the European planetary science community’s research. Furthermore, it will disseminate its results to a wide range of stakeholders including ERA industry, policy makers and, crucially,both the wider public and the next generation of researchers and opinion formers, now in education. As an Advanced Infrastructure we place particular emphasis on widening the participation of previously under-represented research communities and stakeholders. We aim to include new countries and Inclusiveness Member States, via workshops, team meetings, and personnel exchanges, to improve the scientific and innovation impact of the infrastructure. EPN2020-RI will therefore build a truly pan-European community that shares common goals, facilities, personnel, data and IP across national boundaries.

Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at the Open University

RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01/Apr/201431/Mar/2017STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council
The aim of our programme in Astronomy & Planetary Science at the Open University (APSOU) is to carryout detailed investigations of the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planets with a special emphasis on our own Solar System through a combination of observation, simulation, laboratory analysis and theoretical modelling. Our research is divided into two broad areas, reflecting the historical research strengths. This research programme is well-matched to both nationally- and internationally-agreed research imperatives. In its final report, A Science Vision for European Astronomy2, Astronet’s Science Working Group identified four broad areas of strategic importance; our research covers major topics within each of these areas. APSOU projects also map onto two of the four Science Challenges that form STFC’s Road Map3 for science (‘How did the universe begin and how is it evolving?’ and ‘How do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet?’). The present APSOU programme comprises 20 projects (labelled A to T), of which 6 are for consideration by the Astronomy Observation (AO) panel, 1 for Astronomy Theory (AT), and 13 for the Planetary Studies (PL) panel. The AO projects cover the breadth of the 7 themes recognised as UK strengths in the report of STFC’s Astronomy Advisory Panel (AAP), whilst the 13 PL projects are directed towards answering questions raised in two of the three themes identified as UK strengths in the roadmap of STFC’s Solar System Advisory Panel (SSAP)4.

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